The original Assassin's Creed was quite the breakthrough title, considering it immediately became the fastest selling new IP, a record it still holds. It's been two years since then and the highly anticipated sequel has arrive to continue the original's cliffhanger plot, and deliver more content and refined gameplay on top of that. Does Assassin's Creed II actually deliver on these aspects?
Assassin's Creed II is a direct sequel to the events that took place in the original. The game follows protagonist Desmond Miles in a new journey to uncover the secret behind the company that kidnapped him, with the help of former employee Lucy Stillman. This time Desmond uses the Animus, a machine that takes people into a virtual reality of their ancestors, to tap into the past of an Italian ancestor named Ezio Auditore. At this point the player takes control of Ezio in the 1400's through different locations in Italy. Ezio is a very charismatic sort of person, and it really comes through in the stellar voice acting, which is also true for the rest of the cast. Everyone speaks so passionately in their roles, and none of the accents come off as really fake; it helps keep the players immersed in the whole story. In fact, the whole game sounds great and keeps everything together really well. Everything from small grunts when climbing or characters dying, to the sound of the roof tiles beneath Ezio's feet as he crosses rooftops - they all just sounds great.
Speaking of roof tiles, there are a lot of them to cover as the game progresses. One of the greatest things about Assassin's Creed II is the exploration as there is a lot of area in general to traverse in the game. Taking place in famous cities such as Venice, there are major landmarks scattered throughout each level of the game. The high attention to detail is outright impressive, with all sorts of little history blurbs to see and read about as Ezio traverses the cities and villas. Hidden items scattered throughout the game range from statues, to feathers, to scrolls, which all benefit Ezio in one way or another. It's made very clear that exploration is a key part of the game.
The second most important part of the game is the combat, by a hair. Ezio comes armed with a huge arsenal of equipment and weapons to unleash on his enemies. There are many ways to assassinate different figures in the game, whether it be nobles or guards. There's the hidden blades, which have become a staple of the franchise, as well as daggers, throwing knives, swords and smoke bombs to do everything from execute, assassinate, or even escape conflict. The great thing about all these weapons is that they are all fairly unique in combat. Hidden blades perform a variety of really cool assassination, from a quick jab in the stomach to a leaping stab in the back of the neck. There is also a nice range of counter attack kills that Ezio can perform and the addition of disarming opponents is very welcome. The combat also holds up very well even when Ezio is facing a slew of enemies at once, which happens quite often throughout the game.
Of course, neither the combat or exploration would mean anything without some solid controls to back them up, and Assassin's Creed 2 does this very well. The climbing and jumping is all very nicely animated and flows very smoothly. All of the moving and combat is also very stylized, which makes the attacks and jumps feel great and are a lot of fun to pull off. Everything moves as the player would expect for the most part, with the exception of a couple of cases where Ezio seemed to be very picky about where he was going to climb next. Sometimes Ezio will accidentally jumping off of a tower, occasionally leading to death, but for the most part it's not really frequent enough to become troublesome.
The variety of the missions and the pacing continue to impress. There's a huge amount of content to be had, and it never really gets boring. Even the main story missions vary so much that it just pulls the player in and doesn't let go. Assassination missions are fun in the story, and there are a bunch on the side missions as well. There are also a plethora of different missions like races, and even festival games like capture the flag are thrown in for good measure. The game has such a nicely balanced reward system that none of it really feels like wasting time. For example, there is a whole town upkeep portion to the game that doesn't do much in terms of gameplay, but allows an investment system to be introduced into the game, which allows players to earn more money every twenty minutes to buy new items and weapons.
There is a lot to be had in Assassin's Creed II. Whether it's the combat, the exploration, or all the side story, there is just so much to be done and it's all just plain fun. Not to mention the great storytelling with top notch voice acting and smooth gameplay and animation. This is the complete package and a shining example of what makes a great game. This is a clear contender for one of the best games to come out in 2009.